My friends Alex McPherson and June Young have joined me in counting down our favorite films of 2018. Enjoy!
It was quite difficult for me to narrow down my top 10 list (as you can see from my 10 honorable mentions). There were so many outstanding films this year. I do go to school in Kirksville, Missouri, however, so I often had to settle with seeing more mainstream fare than I would have preferred. As a result, I would try to see as many independent films as possible during my brief visits home in St. Louis, and most of my top 10 picks come from that crop. Please keep in mind that I haven’t yet seen If Beale Street Could Talk or Vice, two films I’m pretty sure would have made my honorable mentions or top 10.
10. At Eternity’s Gate
At Eternity’s Gate is the most hypnotic film I’ve seen all year. Fueled by immersive camerawork, a beautiful soundtrack, and an outstanding lead performance by Willem Dafoe, the film provides a masterful look inside Vincent Van Gogh’s creativity and tormented soul. While ultimately tragic and sobering, director Julian Schnabel also lets viewers experience the joy and euphoria associated with creating art — a truly inspiring feeling.
While not easy viewing by any stretch, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is an essential call to action against injustice in 2018 America. John David Washington gives one of the best performances of the year as Ron Stallworth, an African-American man who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Occasionally comedic, frequently disturbing, and always uncomfortable, BlacKkKlansman is a return to form for Lee and an example of cinema’s raw power to comment on society.
8. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Arguably the most crowd-pleasing of my picks, Mission Impossible — Fallout is a jaw-dropping, tongue-in-cheek spectacle that any cinephile should adore. Fine, maybe the plot isn’t wonderful, but the editing, stunt work, and cinematography has set the new benchmark for action films. One scene in particular, a bare-knuckled bathroom brawl, almost reaches the visceral heights of the Raid films.
7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The surprise of the year, Spider-Verse has renewed my interest in superhero films. I’ve never seen anything quite like the film’s psychedelic animation style, which is like a comic book come to life. That Spider-Verse also tells an unexpectedly emotional story of family and identity is icing on an already delicious cake.
6. Isle of Dogs
Of course Wes Anderson’s newest gem, the stop-motion Isle of Dogs, made my list. While it won’t convert viewers annoyed with Anderson’s signature eccentricity, the film’s heartfelt story, memorable characters, and bold presentation solidifies it as one of the best animations of the 2010s.
5. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos has yet again proven himself to be an ingeniously sinister filmmaker. Full of pitch black humor, intelligent plot twists, and awards-worthy performances, The Favourite is one of the best-made films I’ve ever seen. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but then again, Lanthimos doesn’t care one bit.
I felt a wide array of emotions while watching Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s newest masterpiece. Yalitza Aparicio gives a soulful performance in a heartbreaking story of race, class, and political strife as viewed through Cuarón’s own childhood memories. It’s obvious the story was very personal to Cuarón, and his passion seeps through every single frame.
It might initially seem troubling to mix buddy comedy with a hard-hitting story of race relations, police brutality, and gentrification, but Blindspotting successfully pulls it off. Indeed, the film perfectly balances humor and seriousness. I certainly won’t be forgetting Daveed Diggs’ Collin or Rafael Casal’s Miles anytime soon.
2. Sorry To Bother You
I can’t overstate how much I love this wild, rebellious, incendiary film. Boots Riley’s modern classic is definitely absurd, but everything is rooted in truths that are unfortunately relevant today. I had no idea the places Sorry To Bother You would take me, and that’s to be commended. Even after six viewings, the film still entertains.
1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I implore everyone to see this film. Mr. Rogers deserves to be remembered and emulated, and this documentary is a perfect ode to his messages of kindness and love. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a film anyone could enjoy, and the world would be a better place if everyone took Rogers’ lessons to heart.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The Death of Stalin
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
I always have a hard time putting together top ten lists. I’m reluctant with words like “favorite” and “best,” and I tend to think that looking at movies in a macro sense—observing, discussing, and appreciating the entire pool of films produced annually—is more compelling and meaningful than my personal preferences for individual films. It’s been such an incredible year in movies for the LGBTQ community, women, mental health awareness, and people of color (especially African American cinema, which is experiencing nothing short of a REVOLUTION right now between Sorry to Bother You, Black Panther, BlackKklansman, Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk, Blindspotting, and The Hate U Give). Just saying, it’s difficult to narrow down a list of “favorites” with all of that to consider, while also being true to myself and to the fact that two of the best times I had at the movies this year were with The Rock. (I’m sorry that Rampage and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle did not make the cut.). All that being said, and I’ll try to be brief from here on out, these are my Top Ten movies of 2018:
I’m a sucker for a good Western, and this here is a damn good Western. It’s a simple premise—a jaded military man delivering a dying Cheyenne chief across dangerous territory—but it’s so much more than that. There are no heroes here, just astoundingly complex characters and good storytelling. This film captures the brutality of the time, place, and people with a very relevant emotional intelligence.
Maybe an unorthodox choice (I hope you keep reading anyway), but Blockers is smart and funny and surprisingly poignant for a film that includes a scene of John Cena anally ingesting beer. It’s fresh with wise humor about burgeoning female sexuality, parent-child relationships, and includes great performances from the three leads and the young talent playing their daughters.
Toni Collette gives one of her best performances in this contemporary Gothic about a family grieving the loss of their matriarch amidst supernatural activity. It’s shocking, original, and genuinely terrifying. Hereditary takes the theory that dreams represent a state of mind or identity as a house and turns it into a full-fledged nightmare. Not just another horror movie.
7. Eighth Grade
Bo Burnham’s debut film at first seems like a sweet story about an awkward thirteen-year-old girl, but we quickly realize it’s a much lonelier, heartbreaking understanding of this demographic and of being young in this day and age. Elsie Fisher fills the screen with sincerity and vulnerability, and Burnham’s script wisely avoids coming-of-age clichés while still immersing us in the world of Eighth Grade.
6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
F**k you, Tom Cruise. F**k you for making the best action movie of the year (yes, you heard me, the best f**king action movie of the year)*. F**k you for getting away with the same damn storyline yet again, but making it seem original and interesting enough to be invested in. F**k you for Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames and Sean Harris. F**k you for ruining Henry Cavill’s perfect face. F**k you for amazing car chase scenes and fight choreography. F**k you for being fifty-six years old and hanging off a swinging ladder on a f**king helicopter. That’s all I have to say.
*It should be noted here that I understand Tom Cruise is not solely responsible for how f**king great M:I 6 really is.
5. Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
This documentary sort of flew under the radar (I blame GOT for distracting everyone holding an HBO account), but it’s essential viewing for anyone who loves Robin Williams or is even remotely familiar with his work. It’s a touching tribute to a beloved icon we take for granted merely as a gifted funny man, when in reality he was an extremely dedicated, highly-trained, authentic performer who spent his life battling his own demons by bringing joy to others. This movie is a cathartic recognition of his talent and the internal struggles that equally propelled and burdened him.
Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is the most personal film he’s ever given us. In homage to his own upbringing, it’s the story of a young maid working in an upper-class household in 1970s Mexico City. She witnesses the deterioration of her employers’ marriage, the political turbulence in her country, and attempts to care for four small children, all while carrying a baby of her own. You can feel Cuarón’s closeness to the material in every frame; the way he moves around rooms in the house, gazing up and down the streets of the city. The opening shot alone—water rolling across the courtyard stones—is captivating and tender. Named after the neighborhood it’s set in, this movie is a love letter to community and the bonds it forms between unlikely people.
3. Black Panther
More fun than The Dark Knight, more feminist than Wonder Woman, more insightful than pretty much all of the other Marvel and DC films put together, Black Panther is a superhero movie with purpose. Yes, it’s entertaining as hell and surprisingly beautiful to look at, but more importantly BP confronts the same essential questions about race in America (and really, the world) that other films this year have also tackled, from Blindspotting to BlackKklansman, and does it with courage and style. What’s compelling about this movie is that the hero and villain actually have the same objective, but, in the vein of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, they have opposing ideals on how to execute it. It’s powerful filmmaking dressed as popular entertainment.
2. The Favourite
I have a hard time imagining I’m saying anything about any of these movies that hasn’t already been said, but that is particularly the case with Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film. It follows two women in 18th century England vying for the role of Queen Anne’s confidant and lover; one of them pursuing status, the other pursuing love, both of them seeking power. It’s clever, funny, sexy, and explores a dynamic version of female love and friendship we seldom get to see (especially in the British monarchy). Brilliant performances from Emma Stone (who is given far more to work with than she was in her Oscar-winning role in La La Land), Rachel Weisz, and the formerly under-the-radar Olivia Coleman. All the damn stars for this one.
Watching the Golden Globe nominations roll out this year, I was horrified to see Widows go completely unrecognized. Forget Ocean’s 8, this is the female empowerment heist movie of the year—but to say that is selling it short. This movie is a deeply moving reflection on motherhood, marriage, grief, community, race, crime, privilege, politics—I could go on for days. It’s written by Gillian Flynn and director Steve McQueen and this movie takes the best parts of each of them, adds Viola Davis, and produces one of the best pictures of the year. It involves a few clichés—Elizabeth Debicki starts out the dumb blonde with an abusive husband; Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell are the epitomes of bigoted, white privilege; the Davis character’s son experiences a police encounter with tragic consequences we’ve to know all-to-well both in film and in our headlines—but the resolution of these clichés is powerful and satisfying. I came out of this movie and the word on my lips was “realized.”
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The Other Side of the Wind
Sorry to Bother You
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Three Identical Strangers
Well, another year has come and gone. As with few cinematic years, I feel it’s been an embarrassment of riches. As with most years, I felt a real theme emerge. This year, it was code-switching. Whether practiced across racial or class boundaries, or done merely as calculated scheming, the concept of having and/or needing multiple identities has really caught fire in the film scene. Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting, and BlacKkKlansman formed a perfect trilogy for this concept this summer, and The Hate U Give carried it into the fall. My top ten list features code-switching in a variety of different forms, applied to all walks of life. But what stuns me most from an artistic perspective is the high level of craftsmanship on display in all of these great films.
10. Game Night
Jesse Plemons steals the whole show in a comedy that would be one of the best of the decade even without him. It’s little touches – both in the writing and presentation – that make Game Night more than the sum of its parts. Rachel McAdams takes slapstick to a whole new level and for once, Jason Bateman isn’t the cloying, sarodnic, straight-laced black hole of charisma studios usually peg him as. I laughed my head off both times I saw this in a theater, and that’s the mark of a classic comedy: rewatchability.
9. The Rider
I realize this was up for a number of awards last season, but it got a wide release this year, so it still qualifies. I’ve seen some even calling this one of the best of the decade, which I can’t say I entirely disagree with. Chloé Zhao’s portrait of young rodeo star Brady (Brady Jandreau) is as beautiful and heartbreaking as they come. As he tries to return from a serious head injury, his passion for horses becomes almost like a noose. Though genuine emotion is hard to come by for Brady outside of the ring, the depths Zhao explores in this character are highly impressive. The impact of Jandreau’s acting and her direction is a film which feels epic in scale from within, not without.
8. Bad Times at the El Royale
Some viewers love Bad Times, and some have found it shallow and uninteresting. In my opinion, it’s got personality and craftsmanship to spare. We start in 1969, initially following singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) as she checks into the state-straddling hotel of the title. That evening, we meet a whole host of other misfits, all of whom have fascinating stories and motivations which lead them to this lonely establishment and its mysteries. I’ll admit it’s all a bit contrived, but the night plays out with such precision and flow that I feel it’d be hard to not get swept up by it. Kudos to writer/director/producer Drew Goddard, who seems to have taken the template for his Cabin in the Woods and added just the right amount of heft.
7. Vox Lux
Another polarizing pick. Many people find Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux pretentious and disjointed. Maybe those things aren’t necessarily untrue, but it left me with so much to think about that I couldn’t help but fall for it, warts and all. I think what most viewers dislike is the fact that it uses mass shootings as points of plot and theme rather than perhaps giving them the full weight they deserve in media at our present moment. Natalie Portman’s Celeste blows up on the pop music scene with a school shooting in her rearview, and it clearly informs her attitude every step of the way. The film is less focused on these events themselves and more about exploring the culture that creates them, although this is more subtextual. On the surface, Portman offers a delicious performance in the most complex role of her career.
This Swedish fantasy romance will most likely be nominated for Best Makeup at the Oscars, and it’s easy to see why. If I were in charge, it’d be up for Best Picture as well. Border follows Tina (Eva Melander), a customs worker with a unique appearance and pristine sense of smell. When she comes across an odd traveler she can’t prove guilty with her nose, she senses a link between them. Vore (Eero Milonoff) reveals to her a secret which soon topples her sense of identity and purpose. It’s good to know as little as possible about this movie going in. I certainly did and was impressed with the twists and turns it took, all of which felt earned because director Ali Abbasi brings us to care so deeply about these two beautiful lovers.
Ever since I saw it back in July, I have been talking up this movie to almost everyone I know. I know the other celebrity profile docs this year such as RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? were perhaps more uplifting and less heartbreaking, but none were more revealing. Director Kevin Macdonald chronicles the meteoric rise and harrowing fall of Whitney Houston with judicious focus while still celebrating the amazing talent she was. Towards the end, there are huge confessions which I doubt even the most ardent Whitney fans would even have thought possible to obtain. It adds up to not only a joyous portrait of an incredible artist, but a poignant dissection of celebrity culture in America.
What can I say about Roma that hasn’t already been said? The passion, the detail, the gut-punches; it’s just a flat-out stunner. Alfonso Cuarón opens to us his childhood in a beautiful black-and-white storybook — a tribute to the housekeeper who helped raise him in early-70s Mexico City. Yalitza Aparicio is a knockout in the lead role, supported in her first film by a level of craftsmanship few directors could even dream of accomplishing. This could be Netflix’s first Best Picture winer.
Easily Spike Lee’s best film since When the Levees Broke, BlacKkKlansman is at once the funniest and most politically important film of the year. John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth, a real-life black Colorado Springs detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. He and Adam Driver have a perfect acting chemistry as partners in taking down their local chapter of the hate group. It also must be mentioned that the climax of the film is one of the very best film moments of this or any year, in which Lee basically upends the legacy of racial propaganda films by using the technique of cross-cutting pioneered in the original Birth of a Nation to deride that film’s effect.
2. If Beale Street Could Talk
The single best romance in years, Beale Street is an adaptation of a James Baldwin novel from Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight. It has the same moodiness and visual poetry that propelled that film to Best Picture, but it’s also got its own inner dialogue about despair versus hope. Jenkins’ command of intimacy in storytelling is on full display here, as young lovers Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonnie (Stephan James) captivate us with every longing look. Regina King delivers a career-best performance as Tish’s dutiful mother, shadowboxing her own pride and insecurities to ensure a bright future for her daughter.
1. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos is extremely hit-or-miss for me. With the arrival of The Favourite, I can now say he is one of my favorite (no pun intended) directors working today, even if the devilish streak in his work isn’t always my cup of tea. Here, I don’t think anyone involved put a toe out of place. Olivia Colman deserves the highest praise possible for her portrayal of Queen Anne, who in this film is a bedridden manic-depressive with an insatiable lust for her two highest-ranking attendants, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). There are so many details in the unique camerawork and design of this pitch-black comic fable which contribute to a singular, precise vision. It’s a most dangerous game of hearts broken, status longed for, and pride chastised. The film is claustrophobic and sprawling all at once.
Leave No Trace
I Am Not a Witch
Isle of Dogs
Have a wonderful and safe holiday, and here’s to more great films in 2019!